View Full Version : Traveling on Airlines Without an ID

01-21-2015, 01:03 AM
About one hour ago, I was chatting online with an old colleague, and we engaged in our favorite pastime... A game of "I bet I know something that you don't know."

Simply put... This is a little face-to-face (or in this case, text-to-text) game that nerds like us play when we don't have anything better to do than dredge up some obscure fact that we think the other person doesn't know. In our case, specifically, this involves the travel business.

After a few easy ones, I threw out this one:

OK. I walk up to the TSA security checkpoint in Dallas, for my flight to New York City. I hand the TSA guy my boarding pass, then say, "Oh... Man! I think I either lost my wallet, or it has been stolen. I can't find it, or any of my IDs!"

15 minutes later, TSA lets me pass through security so that I can board my flight... And I still have no ID.

How did I do that? Assume that I am just an average person, with no special status, and not famous or widely recognizable.

The answer is that TSA is required to determine that you are who you say you are, and the person identified on the boarding pass. A physical identification card or document is the preferred way to do this, but it is technically not the only way. By obtaining information about you, TSA is able to reasonably determine who you are. Now... It is entirely at the discretion of the TSA staff at your present location to determine if you have given sufficient evidence that you are who you say that you are.

Chances are that you will end up in "the little room" with a TSA supervisor, and answering a few questions. You can say, "Look. My ID must have stolen. My name is 'Joe Fahrvergnügen Lederhosen', and I live in New York. I am just trying to go home." Well, thanks to modern technology, within a few seconds, the TSA supervisor will be staring at an image of your New York driver's license on his computer, and the photo on it looks just like you. He'll say, "OK, Joe. What's your address?" You answer, "555 Goatnut Street." Then he might ask, "Damn, Joe! I'm looking at your driver's license right here. Why aren't you an organ donor? You could save someone's life, you know!" You answer, "Say What? That should say 'YES!' I'm sure that my license says that I'm an organ donor. Your computer must have pulled up a bad image." The TSA guy hands you your boarding pass and says, "It does say 'YES', Joe. You have a nice flight."

In the context of Ticaland, mainly regarding guys from the USA, Canada, and other countries traveling internationally, to Costa Rica, it might seem that this doesn't apply. But... In a roundabout way, it actually does. You can leave San Jose and go back to the USA without an ID. You'll just have to convince the U.S. Consulate that you are who you say you are, so they can issue you a temporary ID.

01-21-2015, 02:54 AM
He just quipped back at me a few minutes ago...

"That was a good one! And you know... for domestic flights in particular, nobody really knows who the ticket or boarding pass is for, especially if one person buys it for another person. If I buy a domestic airline ticket for friend of mine named "James Smith", there are literally Tens of Thousands of people in the USA who could steal his boarding pass and board his flight, and no one would ever know."

That was a pretty good point, I thought.

I then answered back... "You know, even if you do have an ID, the Officers of the U.S. CBP are pretty savvy at determining if you are who you say you are."

The CBP guys are trained for very specific tasks, and most of them are pretty smart, or at least very well trained. Most travelers don't quite understand exactly what their jobs are, or why they do what they do. A little research will make it very clear, very quickly. I initially did my research on the Immigration and Customs guys about 30 years ago, after a few run-ins that initially made no sense to me.

I then told him about a few of my run-ins with CBP:

1) Sometimes because they are a little suspicious, or sometimes because they are taught to make random inquiries, you'll be faced with some odd questions from the Immigration guys at the airport, when you re-enter the USA. One thing to keep in mind, from a very technical and literal standpoint, is that when you leave the USA, you give up your status as a positively identifiable U.S. Citizen or Resident. When you attempt to re-enter the USA, such as at an airport's immigration control area, you are nobody. Nobody knows who you are. OK... so you have a U.S. Passport. How does anybody know that you don't just look a lot like the guy in the photo? U.S. passports are usually valid for 10 years. Not even you look a whole lot like the guy in the photo when your passport is 9 years old. Once the Immigration officer clears you, you are once again a U.S. Citizen or Resident... so to speak.

So.. back to the point of this story. The first experience that I can remember with this was when I returned from a visit to Egypt many years ago. I return to the USA and walk up to the Immigration desk at the airport.

Immigration Officer (IO): Where are you coming from?

Me: Egypt.

IO: Egypt? What were you doing there?

Me: Just traveling... You know, vacationing.

IO: In Egypt? Who vacations in Egypt?

Me: It's actually pretty cool. The pyramids, the Sphinx, lots of other cool stuff.

IO: So you weren't over there planning anything subversive? (keep in mind that 30 years ago, things in the Middle East were pretty tense)

Me: (in my native Southern drawl) No, Dude! I mean... What do you want me to say? I was over there to see things that I've never seen before... Exploring, and all that!

IO: (stamps my passport and hands it to me) No problem, sir. Welcome home.

You see... Terrorists will lie and tell Immigration what they think that the officers want to hear. Citizens of the USA will get irritated and basically say, "What the Hell?! Just let me back in! I want to go home!" The Officer wasn't analyzing my answers to his questions as much as he was observing my reaction to his questions.

2) Many years later...

IO: Where are you coming from?

Me: Costa Rica.

IO: What were you doing there?

Me: Visiting friends.

IO: Friends? What kind of friends?

Me: Girl Friends.

IO: Really? What's her name and birthday?

Me: I don't know. I didn't say one girlfriend... I have a lot of girl friends.

IO: But you don't know their names or birthdays?

Me: No! Look, dude... They're prostitutes. I was banging hookers in Costa Rica.

He just stares at me for a second, then looks back down at my passport and his computer. While he's still looking at the computer, he asks me quietly, "Are the girls there as hot as I've heard?"

I answered him, "They are Latinas, after all... Yeah... They are pretty hot."

He handed me back my passport and said, "Man, I gotta get down there... Soon."

The lesson here is that nobody in CBP cares how many hookers you banged or how much Crack you smoked while you were outside of the USA. That's not what CBP is there for.

3) I had caught a bad cold on my last day in CR, a few years ago. I was miserable, and definitely in a foul mood, but not angry at anyone in particular. However, I do tend to be a huge smart-ass when I'm in a bad mood... Which does not always work out well for me. I walk up to the immigration desk... red eyes, clammy skin, dripping nose... The whole works...

IO: Where are you coming from?

Me: Costa Rica.

IO: Are bringing anything from Costa Rica back into the USA?

Me: Just a horrible cold, apparently.

IO: (not really appearing amused) Any alcohol or drugs, SIR?!?!

Me: No.

IO: Has anyone placed anything inside of your bags without your knowledge?

Me: Well, if anyone placed anything inside my bags without my knowledge... How Would I Know?!

IO: (softly chuckling) That's why we ask the question, sir. Sorry... I didn't mean to annoy you while you are feeling so terrible. Welcome home.

4) I learned this lesson the hard way...

I'm the first one off the plane, and speed through Immigration. I get to baggage claim, right as my bags are coming out. I was moving a lot of stuff on this particular trip, and had my carry-on, plus two checked bags... All perfectly matched Travelpro roller bags of different sizes. There wasn't even anyone else from my flight waiting at baggage claim when the bags started coming out. The very first two bags were my two bags. For thirty seconds, I was the king of the baggage claim. I grabbed both bags, swiftly linked them together with "piggyback" straps and started moving quickly towards Customs. I was so proud of myself for being so efficient.

As I turned the corner and started heading straight towards the Customs desk, this dude in a suit... with a badge... walked up to me. He said, "Wow! First one to baggage claim, and your bags came out first! And you got your bags together faster and better than an airline flight crew member. And all matched luggage, too! Come with me, please!"

I had never thought of that particular aspect before. I must have looked as suspicious as a 3-Dollar Bill.

The guy (apparently a CBP supervisor) escorts me up to a CBP Customs officer in uniform, then leaves. The officer was very polite and said: "OK, Sir. I will need to search all of your bags thoroughly."

So here I am, with two large checked bags, a rollaboard, and my small camera bag -- "personal item." The only plus side to this whole situation was that I had a 2-hour connection time.

On this huge table, the officer opens all 4 of my bags, one by one, and takes out every item individually, opening and unfolding them, checking everything. I must admit, during this entire process, he treated all of my stuff like they were priceless artifacts, unfolding them and laying them gently onto the table. As each bag was completely emptied, he ran his hands over every inch of the bags, and opened every pocket. Once again, he treated my stuff and my bags extremely gently. This went on for all 4 bags. The process took about 30 or 40 minutes. The only altercation of any kind that we had was when I reached for the first bag to open the lock for the guy. He sternly said, "Step back, Sir! Don't touch the bags! Stay over there!" I just answered, "Whoops! I'm sorry! I was just going to open the lock for you. I'll just tell you the combination." He calmed down and said, "OK. That would be great. I don't have my TSA lock key with me right now."

After that everything was fine. While he was searching the last bag, he even started talking to me... "Where are you coming from? Costa Rica? I hear it's pretty nice. Where do you live? What's your job?", etc. I took it as genuine conversation -- the Customs guys don't generally ask questions or talk with you as much as the Immigration guys do.

But here's the part that really made me groan... I'm standing there, and all 4 of my bags are completely empty, and all of stuff is strewn all over this huge table. The guy says, "I'm sorry about the inconvenience, but we have to do this occasionally, you know." I just answered, "It's no big deal. I still have over one hour before my flight leaves." Then the guy says, "OK. You can re-pack your bags and go, then."

I couldn't help myself. I just blurted out, loudly, "Say WHAT?! You're not going to re-pack my bags?" The guy, sort of half emotionless and half apologetic, said, "No, Sir. We're only allowed to do what is necessary to search the bags. We can't re-pack them." I just said, "Dude! That is just SO WRONG!" And there I am, staring at more than 10 square feet of baggage carnage.

After the fact, I do understand. Customs could be accused of planting something in my bags or damaging my stuff, if they re-pack my bags. But it took me about 20 minutes to re-pack everything, and at the end, I was just shoving stuff into the bags, and I was Super-PISSED!

5) APHIS. You pay Five Bucks for it every time that you fly into the USA. They help enforce USDA regulations -- particularly of concern for those on this board -- regulations concerning the importation of plants and animals into the USA. APHIS officers are usually not sworn U.S. law enforcement officers, and do not usually carry firearms or make arrests. However, they work closely with CBP in airport Immigration and Customs areas. Here's my first experience with APHIS:

Many years ago, I am re-entering the USA. I'm at baggage claim waiting for my checked bag. As the bags start coming out, I see this lady dressed in what looks sort of like a police uniform, but not exactly. She's walking towards my baggage carousel, with a Beagle, on a leash. Now, I've never seen a Beagle working in any kind of law enforcement, but I know they are pretty good hounds, and very adept in hunting and tracking roles. As this lady and her dog come walking up to our group of passengers, waiting for our bags, the dog starts sniffing peoples' carry-on bags... and even the people themselves. I was young at the time, and had not traveled much, at this point in my life. But I knew one thing... I was still at that point in my life where I was still up for trying almost anything, and on this particular trip, that included experimenting with marijuana, cocaine, and a few other substances. As the dog got closer to me, I started to sweat. I thought, "I'm screwed!"

Sure enough, when the dog got to me, it started intensely sniffing my hands and my front pockets and then sat down right in front of me and started making some soft, muted barking sounds. The lady asked me, "Sir, are you bringing anything back into the USA?" I answered, "No, " which was true, as far as I knew. She asked, "Do you have anything in your pockets?" I turned my front pockets out, and the only thing I had in either of them was a couple of $20 bills in one pocket.

Still, at this point, I thought for sure that I was going to the "little room" to talk to someone about my use of illegal drugs. What I understand now, that I did not understand then, is that nobody gives a shit what illegal drugs you sampled outside of the USA.

The lady said, "It's OK. He thought he smelled something on you. He's probably just trying to scam me for a treat. We give them treats when they find something. Did you eat anything on the plane that had fresh fruit in it?"

Me: Yeah. They served us a fruit plate before breakfast. Orange, Pineapple, Banana, and Strawberry slices... as I recall.

She: Oh. OK. That's all it is then.

Me: Really? I thought he was sniffing for drugs or something.

She: Oh, No! We don't do that. I work for the USDA. Beagles are the best for finding illegal fresh fruit and plant imports. CBP and the DEA use other dogs to look for drugs. Just remember... Never bring any fresh fruit or plants into the USA. You could introduce a bug or parasite that could wipe out a species of plant or animal.